An English language newspaper carried two news reports adjacent to each other on its front page on Friday. The headline on the left said that the founder of Alt News (a fact checking website) Mohammad Zubair was arrested by Delhi Police for a tweet he had posted in 2018 tweet.
The headline next to it said: India joins G7, 4 others to protect speech, ‘online and offline’.
The brilliant editorial skills in the placement of the two news items side by side brought out the stark irony in what we preach and what we practice (Kathni aur Karni).
The arrest of Zubair, who had been exposing all kinds of false news and tempered videos and photographs through his popular website, appeared to be far fetched and on thin grounds.
In what appears to be a stretched out argument, he was taken into custody for a tweet he had put out nearly five years ago. Someone who calls himself “Hanuman Bhakt” had sent an email complaint to the police.
There had been no other reaction to the tweet which had merely put a screen shot of a scene of a Bollywood film produced several years ago. Yet Zubair was arrested and his laptop and mobile have been seized.
The news about his arrest came on a day when the Prime Minister was attending a conference of G7 and four invited countries who signed an agreement which stated that these countries were “committed to guarding the freedom, independence and diversity of civil society actors” and “protecting the freedom of expression and opinion online and offline”.
This attitude of looking for excuses and opportunities to strike at the critics and rivals is reflected in several instances in the recent past.
The infamous bulldozer politics in Uttar Pradesh and elsewhere is another example of this discrimination. It is well known how the Uttar Pradesh government turned prosecutor, judge and executioner in cases allegedly linked with protests by a particular community.
The state government took the plea that public property was damaged or destroyed by protesters. It identified some of the protesters and sent bulldozers to demolish their houses for alleged violations.
In a country where authorities can point out one or the other violation in almost all houses, this prompt action was clearly done in an arbitrary manner and with a sense of revenge.
It had also later come to the light that the house of one such protester was demolished by giving notice for just one day. Also the house was in the name of the protestor’s wife who had been paying all taxes and had authorised water and electricity connection. While violations of rules can’t be justified, the action clearly was meant to send out a signal.
Yet, ironically, the same government preferred to look the other way when government property worth crores was damaged and destroyed by youths who were protesting against the Agnipath scheme. The police was lax even in identifying the youth and took little action against them. Such double standards have become common place.
This constant witch-hunting of a particular section of the society is leading to an explosive situation.
A glimpse of it was witnessed during the recent barbaric, gruesome and most condemn-able incident in Rajasthan where two misguided youth killed a tailor just expose he had supported the statement or former BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma on Prophet Mohammad.
It is high time that the government brings together top leaders of both the faiths to a table and helps to bring down the temperatures. The government has so far taken no such initiative but it is important that it does so without any further delay.
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